What do you get when you put three double-clear cross-country trips together on a day when few make it around without penalties? You get a team leading by nearly 20 points at the Olympic Games.
That team, Great Britain, is currently sitting on 78.3 penalties ahead of Australia (96.2) and France (97.1). The U.S. team is fifth after this phase on 109.4 penalties.
The British squad also has all three of its riders in the top six individually, including leader Oliver Townend (on Ballaghmor Class) and third-placed Laura Collett (on London 52). Britain’s Tom McEwen is in sixth aboard Toledo De Kerser.
Townend was the second rider of the day to set out on course, and he did it immediately after the trailblazer, Thailand’s Arinadtha Chavatanont on Boleybawn Prince, fell a few fences in.
“We know he’s special,” said Townend of his two-time five-star winning mount. “Anyone that watches eventing knows he’s special. He’s tough; he digs deep. Early on, I thought he was slightly running away with me. In fact, a couple of places I thought, ‘He’s in control; I’m not.’ But I sat behind him and helped find good distances for him. And once I got into the course, I started picking up very good, quick, big, fast distances, almost racing distances, to the straightforward fences, and he answered beautifully.
“I think the performance was second-to-none from all parties,” he added of the team’s efforts.
Collett went out as the second rider for her team on London 52, and she said her horse was foot-perfect around the undulating track. McEwen was the anchor rider.
“I’m not really sure I’ve got any words for it, to be honest,” Collett said. “I’ve always said he’s a superstar, and he just went out and proved to everyone just how good he is. And I’m just so relieved. I did my job and, you know, to be selected on this team this year—and everyone at home will understand this—we’ve had to fight for our place here. He’s just proved to everybody he well and truly deserved it, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of him.”
Derek di Grazia’s track had an optimum time of 7 minutes and 45 seconds, and nine riders got inside of it, with seven of those being double-clear rounds. (The remaining two picked up 11 penalties each for activating a frangible pin.)
Second-placed individual Julia Krajewski of Germany added just 0.4 penalties with Amande De B’Neville.
“She was a little bit surprised with the surroundings in there,” she said. “First fence she had a little spook. We didn’t warm up so much, because we thought the heat might—maybe they shouldn’t be too much used before. And this moving camera in the middle of the course, she was a bit distracted. But generally, she just told me what a cool mare she is. She was jumping super, galloping. Even if here and there she was a little bit off the line, she would just try. She has the biggest heart, and she’s the biggest lion and a huge fighter. I would like to say it was all fun. Three-quarters was really fun, and then it got a bit of work.”
But though Krajewski is second individually, Germany’s medal chances took a hit when Michael Jung, first after dressage with Chipmunk FRH, picked up 11 penalties for dropping a frangible pin at fence 14C. Also on Germany’s team, Sandra Auffarth and Viamant Du Matz picked up a run-out at the corner coming out of the water at fence 9C. The country dropped from second after dressage to sixth, and Jung is sitting in 10th individually now. Six other riders earned frangible penalties over the same device he did.
“He was very good in a very good performance,” he said of Chipmunk FRH. “He galloped nice; he jumped everywhere very good, so I’m very happy about him. We had a little mistake there. I actually did not really realize that the [pin] pulled down; just after when I galloped away from the fence, I heard the sound. And it was quite a surprise for me. But everything else was really nice—really nice to ride and a very good course.
“I was quite straight, maybe just a bit close [to the pin],” he continued. “And he touched it a little bit, but really not that I saw that something happens.”
But despite the hefty team lead Great Britain holds, none of its riders are getting ahead of themselves as they look to tomorrow’s show jumping.
“I prefer not to talk about show jumping today,” said Townend. “I want to enjoy today. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the best or worst show jumper, on the third day it’s a different sport.”
This afternoon, the horses will travel back to the main equestrian venue by trailer, and they’ll spend the night in the climate-controlled barn there and have the second jog tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. local time.
“I know I wouldn’t change [my horse] to anybody else’s,” said McEwen. “And I’m sure the other two would say the same about theirs. I feel the horses came out really well. They’ve finished up really well. They’re really happy and relaxed in the stables, and obviously they’ve got all the air conditioning. We’re the ones getting hot.”
U.S. Moves Up
The U.S. team finished dressage in eighth place but will start show jumping tomorrow in fifth after putting in three clear jumping rounds with only time penalties. Doug Payne was first out of the box with Vandiver, and the pair’s round picked up 6.8 time penalties. He’s in 23rd individually.
“I couldn’t be happier to have ‘Quinn.’ He’s got probably the biggest heart of any horse I’ve had the opportunity to work with, and although a bit unconventional times, he tries his heart out,” said Payne. “That’s really all you could ask for on a course like this.”
Phillip Dutton was the second U.S. rider on course with Z, and though the pair had a hairy moment over a fence in the final water complex, they managed to come home jumping clear with 4.8 time.
“When you go that fast, you’ve got to take a few chances,” he said. “And I had a little bit of a life at the last water. And then I got held on course, which is not ideal. But he’s a great little horse, and he’s got a big heart, and I think it couldn’t have gone much better.”
They’ll start show jumping in 17th place, not far behind top-placed U.S. rider Boyd Martin on Tsetserleg TSF, or “Thomas,” who’s in 14th after earning 3.2 time penalties.
“I’d say it’s a big sigh of relief, getting around,” said Martin, who was the team anchor. “Thomas, I thought tried he tried his absolute heart out. It wasn’t a course that served him that well, with the twists and turns and back and forth. But he dug deep. You know, in hindsight, maybe I should have pushed him a little bit harder. I thought I was good on the time, and then those last seven jumps seemed to take two minutes. But he finished well, and I’m very proud to be American and have three American horses finish.”
The weather was a hot topic of the day as the mercury reached 90 degrees with a heat index over 100, and Martin said it did affect his horse.
“The heat knocked him around for sure,” he said. “Like I felt like at Kentucky when it’s cold and spring weather and bit of rain, they’re fresh until halfway, and I felt like he was a bit winded like by the second minute, which was unusual. But he didn’t get worse. He stayed about that mode the whole way around and never dropped the bit.”
Riders also noted the track, which wraps around a relatively small piece of land at the Sea Forest venue, was mentally tiring for the horses in addition to the physical aspect.
“It’s hard work with lot of turns,” said Dutton. “A lot of accelerating, slowing down. But, you know, we knew that coming in, so we had to get the horses fit and prepared for that.”
Falls, Retirements And One Fatality
There were three rider falls on course today: Japan’s Yoshiaki Oiwa parted ways with Calle 44 at fence 16A, and Thailand’s Weerapat Pitakanonda fell from Carnival March at fence 20C. For Sweden, Therese Viklund fell from Viscera at fence 18B.
There was one horse fall: Boleybawn Prince, ridden by Chavatanont, fell jumping into the first water at fence 5A, but both horse and rider walked away.
Brazil’s Rafael Mamprin Losano retired Fuiloda G after the horse tired badly on course. Lauren Billys, riding for Puerto Rico but based in the U.S., elected to retire a tired Castle Larchfield Purdy on course after the horse picked up a run-out at fence 14C.
“He just ran out of gas, to be honest,” she said. “He was doing so good, and it was riding really pretty, and he was super honest. But after 12 a and b, I got to about four minutes, and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m kind of at the bottom.’ It just wasn’t the day for him.”
Both individual riders from the Netherlands—Merel Blom on The Quizmaster and Janneke Boonzaaijer on Champ De Tailleur—were eliminated due to missing an element of an obstacle, as was Sweden’s Louise Romeike on Cato 60.
There was one horse fatality reported from the day. Jet Set, ridden by Switzerland’s Robin Godel, was transported away from the course in a horse ambulance and euthanized after being examined at the on-site veterinary clinic.
Show jumping begins tomorrow evening with the team competition at 5 p.m. local time (4 a.m. Monday, Eastern Daylight Time) before the individual competition takes place with a second show jumping round later in the evening.